Apple touts better working conditions as factory audits jump

The company has trained more workers in supply-chain companies about their rights and has seen a reduction in the number of facilities underpaying their employees.

Apple factory worker
A factory worker in Apple's supply chain, from the company's Supplier Responsibility 2014 Progress Report. Apple

Apple is touting its success in improving working conditions across its international supply chain in a new Supplier Responsibility report. But as always, there's still work to be done.

The company on Thursday reported that it increased the number of supply chain audits to 451 last year. That's up from 298 in 2012. The 2013 audits covered nearly 1.5 million workers making Apple products. Apple also trained those workers on their rights, boosting the total number of educated workers to 3.8 million since 2007.

All in all, Apple's suppliers appear to be doing well in some areas, but need improvement in others. The company revealed that 87 percent of the factories it audited last year were in compliance with its anti-discrimination policies, requiring companies to employ people regardless of their race, age, gender, and several other attributes. Apple said that it found four facilities to be conducting pregnancy testing in violation of its anti-discrimination policies. Two others were testing for medical issues, such as Hepatitis B, the company reported.

Apple's supply chain performed most effectively in three areas -- fair treatment of workers (96 percent compliance), prevention of underage labor (97 percent compliance), and freedom of association (99 percent compliance).

Despite the good news, there were some areas that need improvement. Apple reported that overall compliance with its myriad worker-protection policies stood at 81 percent in 2013. Juvenile worker protection was the area needing the most work, with 73 percent compliance across the supply chain. On that front, Apple discovered that 50 facilities failed to provide juvenile workers with free health exams, violating the company's policies ensuring proper health and safety for younger employees.

Apple also dinged its supply chain on wages and benefits, finding 75 percent compliance. The company discovered that 106 facilities failed to pay night-shift workers proper wages for holidays. Another 71 facilities underpaid on overtime. More than 100 facilities didn't provide "sufficient social insurance."

Apple's audits have helped quell unrest from years past that human rights violations were occurring across the technology industry supply chain. Apple enlisted the Fair Labor Association to independently audit its supply chain back in 2012 and has enacted increasingly stringent policies on suppliers as a result.

"Apple is deeply committed to expanding opportunities for the people who make our products and ensuring these workers are treated with respect and dignity," the company wrote in its Supplier Responsibility Report. "We will continue to work closely with our suppliers and stakeholders to provide fair and safe workplaces and protect the environment wherever Apple products are manufactured."

About the author

Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.

 

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